Sign up FAST! Login

Education: An Industry of Mediocrity, by Bill Keller, NYT

Stashed in: Education!, Awesome, Education, Don't Get Me Started

To save this post, select a stash from drop-down menu or type in a new one:

"Of all the competing claims on America’s education dollar — more technology, smaller classes, universal prekindergarten, school choice — the one option that would seem to be a no-brainer is investing in good teachers. But universities have proved largely immutable. Educators, including some inside these institutions, say universities have treated education programs as “cash cows.” The schools see no incentive to change because they have plenty of applicants willing to pay full tuition, the programs are relatively cheap to run, and they are accountable to no one except accrediting agencies run by, you guessed it, education schools. It’s a contented cartel."

We need more Dawns. 

More Dawns and more Sunrises!

You guys are too kind... 

The importance of selectivity comes through vividly in “The Smartest Kids in the World,” Amanda Ripley’s engrossing new diagnosis of why American education lags behind the likes of Finland and Singapore. Ripley says she was initially skeptical, since most research shows little correlation between a teacher’s grade point average and classroom results. Then she went to Finland, where only top students get into teacher-training programs.

“What I hadn’t realized was that setting a high bar at the beginning of the profession sends a signal to everyone else that you are serious about education and teaching is hard,” Ripley told me. “When you do that, it makes it easier to make the case for paying teachers more, for giving them more autonomy in the classroom. And for kids to buy into the premise of education, it helps if they can tell that the teachers themselves are extremely well educated.”

Once they are admitted, critics say, prospective teachers need more rigorous study, not just of the science and philosophy of education but of the contents, especially in math and the sciences, where America trails the best systems in Asia and Europe. A new study by the Education Policy Center at Michigan State, drawing on data from 17 countries, concluded that while American middle school math teachers may know a lot about teaching, they often don’t know very much about math. Most of them are not required to take the courses in calculus and probability that are mandatory in the best-taught programs.

“There’s a big range in this country,” said William Schmidt, who oversaw the study. “Some of our education programs are putting out math teachers at the level of Botswana, a developing country in Africa, and some rank up with Singapore.” Unfortunately, Schmidt reckons, the Botswana-level teacher programs produce about 60 percent of America’s future middle school math teachers.

So it's not that American education is bad; it's just high variance?

Education: Yes, lots of variance. 

I can only speak for me, but I felt that my teacher prep program was expensive and most of the ed courses weren't helpful or necessary. More or less hazing. I feel that content is the most helpful. Also, I think apprenticeships are more useful than coursework and I'd make the argument for integrated curriculum. I hadn't realized being able to connect the dots between subject areas and make things practical in terms of work is a talent. I hadn't realized that people generally stick in their subject areas. I was discussing historical lit w a person who said, "Oh, I only know the book, not the history." That's critical. I threw a calc graph on the board in response to some kind of economics question--just the graph w the points of intersection showing rough change...I've realized that as a social studies teacher, I've taken more math than middle school math teachers are required.

Yet we have to take all these useless classes like "how to communicate w families," and pedagogy classes I'll never use. Not to mention the buzzwords. 

To get quality teachers into teacher prep programs, the cool factor needs to return. When I say I'm a teacher, people say, "Oh," or "What a waste..." or the classic "You're overqualified/selling yourself short" I'm micromanaged--in job two I have vision, teaching, I'm standardized. That's no way to get and keep the nation's most creative people. Those who enter the field to save the world leave or burn out. Or worse yet, become institutionalized when they fight the windmills... It's just a contentious place to be these days, systemically, and the teacher prep hoops are the start. I can't tell you how many times regs changed midstream. One example: they were all about tech. I failed the "typing a letter" test. ME. I asked how this could be, "Oh, we don't have time to give feedback, we have a lot of people taking the test. 

"Let me get this straight. You're teaching me to give good feedback to students but you don't give feedback to students? Hmmm... Well, I have a letter to the local paper that I typed well enough..." I got my feedback. Turns out it was an automated typing platform. I'm old. I learned to type on a cast iron Royal typewriter. I double space between sentences, and use typing convention. They hit "tab" for new paragraphs. I flunked due to their formatting. This would have stopped me from graduating. I've worked with a kid who has had the requirements changed 4 times since he's been in his teacher prep program to a grand total of 2.5 extra years. 

My history grad professors...nothing short of awesome. 

Is the key for reform to embrace the high variance and not enforce uniform standards across the board?

Not sure, but if you want uniform standards then you need to test uniformly which means high-stakes (trans: fear and consequences) testing, and standardized curricula, no room for individualization. 

Think of it this way--how effective would you be as an entrepreneur if all entrepreneurs were prepped the same way and had to adhere to the same national #'s... Students are individuals that connect to teachers as individuals. I sort of think it's my job to individualize and give students what they want and need, and when they don't know what they want, to coach and mentor them to that point. I teach older kids, so we can have those convos, and yes, the basics are necessary, but uniformity isn't the answer. Balance and self-discretion is. Giving educators and schools the authority to act as professionals to get students to reach potential... every student has a different mission, set of interests, and potential. 

Teacher training programs need to provide value to teachers the same way schools should provide value to students. Systemically and as a matter of philosophy. Just my opinion. 

Jared: Re "Quality of Botswana..." I wonder how many of each quality KEEP their jobs. That's a study I haven't investigated. An awful lot of mediocre people can file the right #'s and paperwork and stay below the radar. The people of high quality have opportunities elsewhere and leave. And there is no data to tag how to assign teacher quality to levels of success in students, meaning, is the student producing because I'm awesome, or maybe in spite of me because the reading teacher down the hall rocks. Or even worse, maybe we both suck but the kids' an intrinsic, there's no way to know. 

Charlotte Danielson's rubric, that's being used in our state's high-stakes teacher eval, said her rubric wasn't designed for such things... just as a reflective way to consider improving one's own lessons, and that the only thing it'll do is make money for a lot of lawyers. I agree. Here's a video clip:

There are certainly awesome people in the world.  Some of them even wander into being teachers.  


Teaching, as a cartel and union of employed professionals, is retarded...  

...and one cure for this pedantic pedagogy is more SOLE, which means, more grandmas and grandpas playing an active role in our lives.  Kinda like they used to do before we started warehousing the elderly with condescending acceptance. 



We could simultaneously create a happy place with a regained role for our elders and for our kids to freely become smarter than we could ever imagine.


That's about it.

You May Also Like: